Five thousand pounds got you a library back in 1902
In 1887 a Libraries Act was passed by the Government which allowed Local Authorities to put 1d in the £ on the rates to finance local libraries.
After initial hesitation in Brentford this was agreed and space for a library was provided in the 18th century Clifden House next to the Methodist Church where the Council had their offices. This was demolished in the 1950s.
In 1889 the job of Librarian was advertised and out of 50 applicants Fred Turner from Wolverhampton was appointed at a salary of £1.10.9d per week until the library was set up and then £1.18.0d or £100pa when it was up and running.
He started collecting books from the Mechanics Institute which had recently closed and from donations from local people. These were not displayed on open shelves as nowadays but had to be ordered from the catalogue and collected for the reader by the librarian. He provided newspapers and started a series of lectures so the library became so popular that within a few years opening hours were extended and an extension was being suggested.
Brentford Library with Council Offices alongside
In 1902 the Scottish American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie had let it be known that he would provide money for public buildings if local people provided the land and the running costs. He believed in education for all and that if you made money you should spend it for the common good. Fred Turner, as another believer in education, particularly for working people wrote to him and he agreed to provide £5,000 for the library we have now. It was built in the garden of Clifden House.
The foundation stone was laid by the Countess of Jersey from Osterley on a rainy day in September 1903 and the library was opened on May 9th 1904. Andrew Carnegie actually came to Brentford to perform the opening ceremony and described his journey to Brentford Station as like travelling through the Garden of Eden. I can only think that this was because the fruit trees in the orchards along the line were in blossom. They must have hidden the gas works, the brewery, the tannery and the soap works!
"The Great and the Good" - The Library Committee of 1904, taken at the opening.
Andrew Carnegie who gave the money for the building is sitting in the centre with Thomas Layton, the Chairman of the Library Committee on his left. Fred Turner, the librarian is standing between them. Nowell Parr, the designer of the building is behind Fred Turner's left shoulder.
There’s a full description of the events and speeches on the opening day in Fred Turners’s book The History and Antiquities of Brentford which is available to read at the library. It was a day of great local pride and Carnegie must have been impressed as he gave Fred Turner a further £400 to fit out the building.
The story of Fred Turner’s long contribution to the Public Library and Museum has been written by Diana Willment and is available for sale at the Library as is the story of Thomas Layton who was the Chairman of the Library Committee. On his death in 1911 he left his collection of books, maps, coins and other artefacts to the people of Brentford to form this Museum.
But that’s another story……….
To see these photos (and others) full size, please visit Historical Brentford in photos
February 3, 2011